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[WORK IT OUT] Exercise prescription urged to help treat depression

The John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation, Baltimore, Maryland, recently released a report based on a review of the scientific evidence published over the past 30 years on the link between physical activity and mental health. The report synthesizes over 1,600 peer-reviewed studies on how exercise affects brain function and mental health, and shows the importance of a well-rounded, integrative treatment plan.

From aquatic exercise to dance, to high-intensity interval training to walking, the report includes sections on 20 types of exercise. Among the conclusions:

  • 89% of all published peer-reviewed research between 1990 and 2022 found a positive, statistically significant relationship between exercise/physical activity and mental health.
  • Three to five 30-45-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week appear to deliver optimal mental health benefits.
  • Combining or alternating strength/resistance training with cardiovascular/aerobic exercise shows stronger benefits on mental health outcomes than either one alone.
  • Team sports, cycling, and aerobic or gym exercise are the top three forms of exercise associated with over 20% fewer "poor mental health" days per month.

Among the clinical recommendations:

  • People meeting criteria for depressive disorders should be prescribed 30-45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise 3-5 times per week, ideally beginning with structured group supervised exercise, or individual coaching by a physical therapist or fitness professional.
  • Evidence supports prescribing yoga, qi gong, or mind-body movement for people experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Cardiovascular/aerobic and strength/resistance training should be encouraged and monitored for effectiveness.
  • Recommendations for exercise, physical activity, or movement for people experiencing mental illness should be accompanied by evidence-based support for behavior change, such as motivational interviewing or structured group and peer support.
  • Exercise intervention adaptations should be explored for relevance to patient enjoyment, and cultural and regional diversity.

To download the full report, “Move Your Mental Health,” click here

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